Who Needs Baseball? Cricket Club Thrives In Tewksbury
Saunders Recreation Complex on Livingston Street is home to the local entry in the 106-year-old Massachusetts Cricket League.
Have you ever driven down Livingston Street on a weekend afternoon and wondered what those 22 men in colorful uniforms are doing?
Cricket. It’s the second most popular sport in the world in terms of countries that play it, and Tewksbury happens to be the center of the cricketing universe north of Boston.
“Without the town’s support it is not possible to play here,” said Mangesh Rane, an immigrant from India and six-year resident of Tewksbury. “It’s a big achievement to be able to play in the town of Tewksbury,” said Rane, a software engineer.
“We have to thank Mr. Brian Gilbert of the Public Works Department, Mr. Richard Mountouri, the town manager and Mr. Matt Coppi of the Recreation Department,” he said. “Without them it’s not possible to play here.”
The Mass. State Cricket League, founded in 1906, has been consistently active since the early 1960s. It features 30 teams and three divisions, but the only squad north of Boston is the Merrimack Valley Cricket Club.
Cricket is far more than a weekend warrior sport for the athletes that have brought the game over from their respective nations.
“It’s another religion for India,” said Rane. “Family and cricket are the biggest parts of life growing up,” he continued.
Cricket is basically baseball's British brother. Hitting a ball that a fielder catches will get you out, and a swing and a miss will likely do the same. Hitting the ball a long way earns teams runs and victories.
On Saturday, the Merrimack Valley squad took on Challengers Cricket Club who made the trip up from Rhode Island. The Challengers earned a victory despite the long journey and immense heat.
Seventy-three year old Ramesh Naidu, in mint physical condition, umpired the match that took place 90-degree weather.
Naidu immigrated to the United States 30 years ago from India where he umpired in major tournaments such as the coveted Ranji Trophy. His umpiring days began back in 1968 in Mumbai, India.
“Cricket is my passion, it is my love,” said Naidu who has also umpired tournaments in Singapore and Sri Lanka.
Here in the United States he has umpired tournaments in New York, Philadelphia, and Fort Lauderdale. He is the longest tenured umpire in the Massachusetts State Cricket League and a member of the United States Cricket Umpire Association based in New York.
“Everywhere I go, I go on my own and spend my own money,” said Naidu, who was also a secretary for the Mass. State Cricket League for two years.
Naidu and Rane, for different reasons, agreed that cricket has the ability to gain popularity in the United States.
Naidu believes cricket has a shot at making the 2020 Summer Olympics, and pointed out that the sport is currently surging in popularity thanks to its new, three-hour format of the game, “T20”.
Rane pointed out youth cricket camps sprouting up all over Massachusetts. Wrentham and Shrewsbury have already totaled 150 combined participants and Tewksbury could be the next.
“We want to start a youth camp as well here north of Boston,” said Rane.
Playing the game is becoming easier thanks to Rane and his squad’s work on developing a suitable “pitch,” the area on the field that sees the most action.
Rane and his teammates built an ideal pitch using a cement base and Astroturf surface.
“The Massachusetts State League wants to build this same pitch for all of the grounds in Massachusetts,” said Rane.
This season, the Merrimack Valley Cricket Club will be competing for their second consecutive Mass. Cricket League T20 Championship.